The Irish Times view on Spain heading for a general election: Sánchez takes a gamble

The prime minister is seeking to mobilise voters against an alternative right-wing coalition which would include the far-right Vox party

Spain’s politics have been galvanised by prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s decision to call a general election after the serious setback his left-wing party coalition suffered in last week’s regional, city and local elections. It is a gamble with which he intends to mobilise voters against the dangers of an alternative right-wing coalition which would include the far-right Vox party.

Spain seems set to continue with national coalition governments whose precise composition reflects the country’s complex political structure alongside the policies of its two main centre-right and centre-left national parties. Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party formed its first coalition, with the new left party Podemos, after failing to win an outright majority in 2019. Since then it has governed effectively from the left during a period of economic buoyancy. But Sánchez has needed support from Catalan separatists and a Basque secessionist party in certain parliamentary votes to hold his majority. That gave the centre-right People’s Party reason to denounce him as a dangerous opportunist, in addition to opposing his overall policies.

By bringing forward the general election from December to July 23rd Sánchez is returning that compliment about political opportunism. Under the leadership of Alberto Núñez Feijóo the People’s Party has moved towards more centre right positions. In doing so it opened up space for the far-right, anti-immigrant Vox party to double its vote last week. The general election will now be held during intense negotiations to form new right-wing coalitions at regional and city levels, highlighting the prospective inclusion of Vox in national government.

The decision is tactically smart, returning the initiative to Sánchez after last week’s electoral setbacks when he will have international exposure as Spain takes over the six-month presidency of the EU in July. The election timing presents a unity challenge for the Spanish new left, beset by leadership turnover, poor regional and city results and a split led by a former Podemos minister.